Recession creating a new workforce

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offcie workersOne of the worst things about the recession may turn out to be one of the best things about it: The layoffs are creating a new workforce -- the part-time workforce.

Cobbling together enough part-time jobs to add up to full-time work is becoming the skill set of the new part-time workforce.

A new economy is being formed, or at least expanded upon, as more laid off workers join the ranks of freelancers and contract workers who don't get benefits such as paid vacation and sick days, but get paid for each project they complete.

It's as if America is turning into a toy factory in China, where each worker adds a part to a toy and is paid for each part they assemble.

As I wrote recently in a WalletPop series on the fundamental effects of the recession, the workplace is also changing for everyday workers -- four-day workweeks, lost benefits, mandatory furloughs and pay cuts.

And those are the people lucky enough to retain their jobs while others are part of the 10.2% national unemployment rate.

Add in the underemployed -- people such as myself seeking full-time work but who work part-time -- and the jobless rate climbs to 17.5% nationally.

Personally, I'd rather be working full-time and receiving health care and other benefits, but I can see the benefit to being a contract worker and choosing the hours you work. And there are plenty of unemployed people out there who would rather be underemployed than not working at all.

That's partly what Solvate.com is banking on. Whether you consider it taking advantage of a workforce, or finding a need to fill, Solvate is putting people to work in what it calls "outsourcing," or "micro-staffing."

For an hourly fee of around $25 to $40, Solvate charges small businesses and individuals to have its freelance staff do work such as graphic arts, writing, bookkeeping, customer service haggling, expense report management and salesforce administration. It also offers more personal services such as travel planner and concierge services like making restaurant reservations, catering, sending gifts to clients and shipping items.

Many of Solvate's clients are small businesses that never had access to this level of services before, said Julie Ruvolo, co-founder and chief operating officer at New York-based Solvate.

And many of its contract workers are people who are making the shift to a part-time workforce because of the recession, Ruvolo said.

"These are people who would not have imagined themselves unemployed two years ago," she said.

And since it often takes years for jobs to return after a recession, this new class of workers may find themselves working part-time for years to come.

Outsourcing work used to go to India, usually for big businesses. But now the economy is moving it to the United States and allowing small businesses to take advantage of workers available on demand.

Solvate has a small workforce -- 100 and growing -- who are paid $15 to $100 an hour for everything from data entry to tax work. But it's a workforce that only keeps growing. As Ruvolo put it, Solvate is "setting up a system that helps workers to work on demand."

For businesses that can't afford full-time help, that's the best system in the world. No benefits, just pay as you go.

For workers looking for benefits, the job landscape is changing and they'd better adapt by at least charging for the benefits they're not getting.

If they don't, they're only cheating themselves.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area who can be found at www.AaronCrowe.net
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